Märchen Monday: Fundevogel (Bird-foundling)

If you aren’t German, then you likely didn’t read Fundevogel or Bird-foundling until I mentioned it last week. And if you weren’t here last week, you may still need to read it. It is available in German and seventeen other languages on GrimmStories.com: Link.

Märchen Memories

I have no memories of Fundevogel. And if I hadn’t chosen to learn German, I would never even have heard of it. As I wrote in the first paragraph of this post, I’m sure that your experience is similar. It’s one of the obscure Märchen. And although it shares some common elements with the Märchen that did become famous, it feels unique.

It’s also a lot of fun. I can imagine child readers really enjoying the shapeshifting by the two young protagonists. It’s a mystery to me why this isn’t more popular. My best guess is that the characters are just too disjointed. The forester who rescues Fundevogel from the bird also sees Fundevogel’s mother asleep under the tree . . . but instead of returning the child, the forester takes him to his own house! It’s also a little odd that the female villain isn’t a stepmother, but the forester’s alte Köchin or old cook. Why would she want to kill him?

As soon as I typed that last question, however, the answer became obvious: She’s a cook; she wanted to eat him. And perhaps also to serve him up to others. We’ve seen this type of witch before.

Going Back to Grimm

When Fundevogel and Lenchen are trying to escape the cook’s three servants, they shapeshift into different things. Their forms change dramatically, but their close bond stays the same. For instance, when Fundevogel becomes a rose-tree, Lenchen becomes its rose. And in the end, when he turns into a pond and she into a duck, they also work together to drown the cook! My favorite transformation, however, is their second: They become “eine Kirche” (a church) and “die Krone darin” (the crown inside it).

Unlike a rose-tree and a rose or a pond and a duck, a church and a crown don’t seem like an obvious pair. I confess that during my first reading, I translated Krone” as “crone” — an elderly lady. I’ve seen many elderly ladies in Kirchen who are as comfortable as ducks in water! But I had to think about when I had seen a crown in church.

There are, of course, the crowned images of Christ the King and Mary Queen of Heaven. And saints who were kings and queens are still depicted with their crowns. But the Krone of Fundevogel isn’t part of a religious image, but something separate. If I had been born a hundred years ago, I would made the connection more quickly. In 1978, Pope John Paul I became the first Pope to dispense with the symbolic coronation ceremony. And in 2008, the first papal election I lived to see, Pope Benedict XVI replaced the Krone on his coat of arms with a mitre. Before our modern era, a Krone in a Kirche clearly pointed to the authority of the Pope.

This gives a darker layer of meaning to the wicked cook’s wish that her servants had smashed the Kirche and stolen the Krone.

Next Märchen Monday: Schneewitchen (Snow White)

Read it here: Link

2 thoughts on “Märchen Monday: Fundevogel (Bird-foundling)

  1. A curious one! I like the names in the Spanish and the French: Lenita and Piñoncito in Spanish and Madelon and Dénichet in French. Lots of other translations seem to struggle with the names, especially for the Fundevogel; I wonder if the tale is common in Spanish and French. I also like Piñoncito’s response to Lenita’s proposal that if he never abandons her, she’ll never abandon him: ¡Jamás de los jamases!, never among nevers. The tale overall ends up being very, very charming in Spanish.

    The translations seem all over the place with the second transformation, especially the Krone. The English and the Italian replace it with a chandelier; Spanish and French keep it as crown — which in neither language is the word for a chandelier, although I think in both it can mean a wreath, so maybe that’s what a reader in those languages would first think. Finnish and Turkish also keep it as a crown (and as far as I know, it only means ‘crown’ in those languages), and and Vietnamese drops the church transformation entirely for some reason (perhaps the translator didn’t know what to do with it).

    I missed it the first time around, but it really is odd that the mother at the beginning just disappears from the story.

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      The German for chandelier is “Kronleuchter” (suggesting a crown of candlesticks), so that may explain the change in English and Italian. It’s still odd, though. I can understand why the English translator might have changed it, but you’d think the Italian translator would understand better! They might not have actually smashed the church and stolen the crown, as the cook wished her servants had done, but their own sort of hatchet job isn’t bad.

      And this may answer my question of why the story isn’t more popular outside of Germany. The English version, at least, sounds very confusing. But if it’s as charming in Spanish as you say — and it was already quite charming in the original German — then perhaps more Spanish speakers know it! I wish there were people I could ask . . .

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